Course description / pedagogies
Here we will examine how the technologies of computer-mediated communication (CMC), contrary to the assumptions of technological instrumentalism (technology as “only a tool,” i.e., culturally- and value-neutral), rather embed and foster specific cultural values and communicative preferences.
To see this, we will examine how these values and preferences are made manifest in the conflicts that emerge in praxis when CMC technologies are deployed in diverse cultural settings. Along the way, please notice, I’ll be asking for your responses along the range outlined above – i.e., disciplinary, ‘poetically’, culturally, etc.
Gert Hofstede (1980, 1983, 1984, 1991) undertook the first (more or less) global studies on how a specific business “culture” (IBM), at the time one of the most widely distributed companies, interacted with the local cultures of some 39 (check) different countries. While there are important limits to Hofstede’s work, it remains at least a useful starting point, especially as his work has introduced into communication theory what seem to be five useful axes for comparing and contrasting cultures, i.e.
High <-> low power distance
Individualism <-> collectivism
High <-> Low Uncertainty avoidance
Masculinity <-> femininity
(Confucian) Long-term <-> short-term planning
Our first range of examples from more recent work may include:
[ASCII (Pargman 1998)]
Socio-economic, gender, and ethnicity differences within the U.S., including:
White middle-/upper-middle class males vis-à-vis females / African-Americans / Asian-Americans / Native Americans (Stewart et al 2001)
Differences among German- / French- / Italian-speaking Swiss (Rey 2001)
CSCW in Japan vs. U.S. (Heaton 2001);
E-mail (“high content/low context”) vs. Arabic / Asian / African / Indigenous communicative preferences (“high context/low content”);
Postma 2001 (African Indigenous) + Western individualism/literacy vis-à-vis Indigenous collectivism/orality-performative learning preferences;
Rahmati 2000 (Group Support Systems in Indonesia vs. Australia)
Abdat and Pervan 2000 (Western GSS in Malaysia)
Harris et al 2001 (the Kelabit, an indigenous people in Borneo)
--> Initial overview of conflicts + possible Models for the future?
Homogeneity – Disneyfication and “McWorld” (Hamelink 2000; “We are the Borg” Ess 2000)
Fragmentation / Balkanization (Ess 2001)
Middle grounds / Hybridity / Cosmopolitanism
Hongladarom 2001: a Thai model between colonialism and isolation
Bucher 2002: ‘glocalization’ – global communication is always intercultural (Germany / China)
Simon and Allen 2002: women users see continuities, not polarities
Peripheries “talk back” - Ulf Hannerz (1992)
Anthony Giddens (1991)
Second range: from Scandinavia to the Middle East: Praxis and theory
“Users” are more than “cultural dopes” – they actively create hybrids that conjoin traditional practice/habit/belief with new possibilities:
Hård Af Segerstad 2002 – Swedish text-messaging
Sveningsson 2002 - Swedish music buyers
(cf. Bucher 2002)
Sveningsson 2003 – use of English in Swedish web chat --> notions of diglossia, etc. (Herring 2003)
Middle-East: Special issue of Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Vol. 8 (2), January, 2003:
Does CMC contribute to a “Westernization” of traditional Islamic society – including threats to traditional culture, such as
a transformation of traditional gender roles and rules? (Wheeler 2003);
consumer culture as a threat? (Piecowye 2003)
Can Islamic / Arabic women become cultural hybrids – accessing Western CMC while retaining traditional cultural values and roles? (Piecoywe 2003);
Can CMC liberate the voices of women – the example of Afghan women under the Taliban, and an emerging middle ground between old traditions and Western visions (Bickel 2003);
Can CMC contribute to peace between Israeli Palestinians and Jews? (Dahan 2003)
From praxis to theory:
Burraga 2002: Hofstede’s axes do not always work (Iran)
Sterliz 2001 (in Piecowye): “the people on the receiving end of globalization... have a choice of what to accept—and very often they choose bits and pieces that they mix with their own forms of expression.”
--> “users” are persons – embodied and thus intertwined with communities, cultures, traditions, etc. Nocera 2002 on Lucy Suchman (situated knowledge), Winograd & Flores 1986 (hermeneutics), Gregory Bateson & Douglas Engelbart (Bardini 2000)
Cf. “Hermeneutical / phenomenological turn” in recent philosophy --> applied to CMC and questions of embodiment: Becker 2000, Ess 2003.
Additional issues, problems:
Commodification / consumer culture as engine of globalization --> threat to cultural values, beliefs (Piecowye 2003; LaFargue 2002 – indigenous crafts online; BUT – Rossiter 2002 and others from CATaC’02)
Susan Herring (CATaC’02): Diglossia – English(es) may emerge as “high” language (for global/thin arrangements) + preservation of at least many local languages. (Cf. Duncker, Heaton, Piecowye)
Conditions for more democratic / egalitarian politics online?
”The democratic potential of the Net for promoting ‘civic pluralism’ will partly rely on its being constructed by those capable of negotiating global differences, creating multiple, complex meanings and crossing boundaries.” Bickel 2003
Third range: minorities, immigrants, diaspora, hybridity, fragmentation
(See: “Culture, Ethnicity, Media” bibliography, below)
Will your web page sell your product? Cultural and communicative preferences of Hispanics in the U.S. (Leonardi 2002)
Will CMC democratize – or even sell your product? Media preferences of immigrant communities in Los Angeles (Wilson 2002)
Will CMC foster cultural integration or fragmentation? The example of immigrant children in Nørrebro (Tufte 2002)
Theory: New Notions of “Cosmopolitanism”?
No “global village” – but a global metropolis, complete with ghettos? (Hjarvard 2002)
The major cosmopolitanism of capital – and the minor cosmopolitanisms of migration, exile, and the diaspora (Silverstone 2002)
“Cosmopolitanism” – especially the CNN variety – as a Western white male construction? (Sreberny 2002)
(Cf. Ess 2003c)
Theory/Praxis: English as lingua franca / development of (fragmenting) pidgins?
Herring and Danet 2003 (The Multilingual Internet)
Sveningsson 2003 (Use of English in a Swedish web chat)
II. Responses – including Aesthetics
Superflex Artists Group (Nørrebro)
Additional student responses
III. Intercultural /Cross-cultural communication online? (cf. Harms 1973, below)
See “Intercultural communication online?” and “Intercultural/Cross-cultural Communication” below.
Arildsen et al 1991.
Chen and Starosta 1996
Rasmussen and Bank-Mikkelsen 2000
IV. Future world/s? Class projects and presentations
Here we will focus on your choosing and developing a research/theoretical discussion (final paper), case-study, a product (a web page), or ???? as a vehicle for applying what you’ve learned to a particular area of interest.
Unless other arrangements are made, these projects will be presented to the class for discussion and, where appropriate, critique.
Generally, I would like the shared theme here to be: what have we learned regarding cross-cultural communication vis-à-vis online environments that will allow us to communicate more effectively online – whether for humanistic and/or pragmatic purposes?
Some possible topics and projects include:
A web-page aimed at either a specific cultural group and/or groups – designed in such a way as to recognize the cultural values and communicative preferences distinctive to and definitive of that group/s.
Online environments – including chatrooms, MUDs, websites with chat capability, etc., - designed to foster cross-cultural communication that aims for the middle ground between homogenization/colonization and fragmentation/Balkanization.
Research and theoretical discussion of the multiple topics and issues we’ve examined – but applied to a specific issue, problem, etc.
Etc. – what are your ideas?